“We are living in a Ladakh marked by growing conflict, both in terms of its frequency and intensity,” writes Stanzin Dawa, a Ladakhi scholar who obviously knows a lot about his society. He recently published an article in a peace studies journal that advocates eight different approaches that Ladakhis might take to improve their culture of peace. The same article was published on a website last year and it was noted briefly in a news report at that time in this website. It is still available on the Web. The two versions are nearly the same, except for minor, stylistic improvements in the current one.

Dawa uses the eight categories outlined by the United Nations for developing cultures of peace as a framework for his own analysis of his society. He opens his article by acknowledging the historic culture of peace that prevailed in Ladakh, but he feels it has been breaking down due to several factors. One is the fragmentation of society. People no longer consider themselves Ladakhis—they are Muslims or Buddhists, Shia or Sunni. He agrees with Helena Norberg-Hodge that the development paradigm has helped dehumanize Ladakhi society as well as weaken its peacefulness. Dawa argues that it is necessary to move away from negative reactions to conflict in order to embrace the opportunities of building harmony in society.

The author provides specific proposals for each category that he describes. The first issue he addresses is the gender discrimination that exists in Ladakh, particularly with regard to the veneer of democracy. He refers to democracy as “a spectator sport” which hardly admits women as full participants. Only a few women serve on the Leh and Kargil Councils, which undermines the effectiveness of democracy in both the Buddhist and Muslim regions. He proposes that 33 percent of the seats on the Hill Development Councils of both Leh and Kargil should be reserved for women.

The second category he describes is Ladakh’s inadequate and alien education system. The “inappropriate and irrelevant” educational patterns, as he terms them, introduced by outsiders have helped break down the traditional culture of peace that used to exist between the Buddhist and Muslim communities. He argues that the education system has helped to weaken inter-community bonds and has fostered insecurities and communal tensions. He proposes, as an alternative, a peace education curriculum that could help the schools build a culture of nonviolence.

His third strategy for peace building in Ladakh is to promote the common Ladakhi language as an essential element in good communications. He points out that the Indian government promotes a Hindi Week as a way to recognize one of the major languages of the country, so why can’t the local governments similarly promote their language through an annual Ladakhi Week? He also advocates assistance for researchers who work in the language, and he proposes awards for scholars who study Ladakhi literature.

He feels that the Hill Development Councils of both Leh and Kargil should support what he calls a Common Minimum Development Programme. The councilors would be forced to learn about each other’s needs and issues, and they would have to work together to develop plans and proposals. Besides promoting sustainable economic development, such cooperation could foster social harmony in the two regions of Ladakh, he argues.

His fifth strategy focuses on the youth. Acknowledging the obvious—that young people have enthusiasm, energy, and risk-taking spirit—he maintains that the government should have clear policies on developing the potential of the youth. He feels that the young people should be given responsibilities at all levels of government to build peaceful relations between the competing sectors of Ladakhi society.

Another area of concern is the acceptance of diversity in Ladakh, which should be a supportive home for many different groups with widely differing beliefs. The essence of the land, he writes, is “securing the space for others to contribute the best that they have and all that they are” (p.433). Acceptance and respect for others with differing cultures, looks, beliefs, religions, political ideologies, and behavior patterns will help bring about a culture of peace.

Dawa emphasizes his passion for music and the arts as catalysts of peace. “Music,” he writes, “is a beautiful healing process; it begins with the self, and gradually expands to your family, your neighbors, your society, your villages, your country, the whole world” (p.433). Since music and arts can so significantly foster peaceful relationships, he advocates musical and artistic exchanges between the Buddhist communities of Leh and the Muslim communities of Kargil. He proposes Leh-Kargil friendship arts and music festivals and the integration of the arts and music into school curricula. Why not have local governments promote traditional arts and music, and why not employ local artists and musicians as teachers in the schools?

His final section is a discussion of inter-cultural exchanges. He explains that, in his own experience, Pakistani and Indian peoples have enjoyed and benefited from cultural exchanges. He suggests that government bodies, non-governmental organizations, and religious groups should organize similar exchanges between the Muslim peoples in Kargil and the Buddhists in Leh. Internship programs with each of the Hill Development Councils for a person from the other district could also be initiated.

Dawa is clearly looking at developing long-term cultures of peace in Ladakh. His proposals are interesting and worthy of careful consideration by Ladakhis and others in India.

Dawa, Stanzin. 2007. “Building a Culture of Peace in Ladakh.” Peace Review: A Journal of Social Justice. 19(3): 427-434